It is inappropriate to place Dr. Melissa Ifill and celebrated author Rhyaan Shah in the same boat. They cannot be compared or equated on cultural nationalist issues.I do not know Ifill and never interacted with her. But she is admired and respected for her commitment to African issues and defending the African community even when elections are rigged and Indians are attacked as in West Berbice or in Agricola. She is a proud Africanist. Nothing is wrong with that.
Rhyaan Shah is of a somewhat opposite character. I somewhat know Rhyaan Shah; she is described as a scholar par excellence, a woman of integrity, a non-racist, and someone who respect other cultures. She does not confine her readings to only Indian writers and she does not write on Indians alone. She reads and appreciates literature and scholarship of writers of all ethnicities. She commands enormous respect among intellectuals regardless of ethnicity. There is hardly any more of her (meaning among females) kind in Guyana and the Indo-Caribbean diaspora. She is a proud Jahagin and Indo-centrist. There is nothing wrong in that but we are not going to find any more of her ilk in the country and certainly not in parliament or UG.
There are several Melissa Ifills in Guyana and the African Caribbean diaspora. The Ifills are Black nationalists who fight tooth and nail for their people. There are hardly any equivalent in the Indian community in the Caribbean or Indian diaspora.
Even though I do not know her personally and did not have much interaction with her, I can offer somewhat of a testimonial on Rhyaan Shah who has publicly and unabashedly defended Indians and contributed significantly over the last three decades to Indian cultural survival in Guyana. I read her works and her commentaries in the media; she is a profound writer, a league in her own. I attended several Indian conferences where she was a presenter. Some of them we organized together. Some she organized with others that I participated and some I organized where she made presentations. (Organizing conferences is very hard, time consuming, and personally costly work. She spent a lot of personal income on these activities or programs. Often we spent our own personal money to organize programs to benefit the population. Most of those who benefited from state contracts or from the population hardly contributed to public programs. They exploit, don’t contribute! State funding was hardly available for Indian activities as Rhyaan Shah, myself, Ravi Dev, and other cultural activists found out. In my decades of activism, regardless of which party was in government, only once did the state make a direct financial contribution to a cultural program relating to Indians – in 2017. I am told the Granger administration offered some $500K for a Georgetown cultural program that cost millions. Since the grant was a pittance, it was rejected. The administration did, however, offer a larger grant for another program on West Coast and it was accepted; it was the first time I believe that a government had publicly supported an Indian activity – stand to be corrected; African emancipation programs that year received subventions of some $65M and similar amounts in other years, 2015-2020).Both Ifill and Shah have only a few similarities – they take pride in and celebrating their respective African and Indian heritage; both should be applauded. Both are rights activists of their respective races; and both are feminists. But they depart in other respects. Nothing is wrong in cultural nationalism. In the US, where more Guyanese are settled than are present in Guyana, there are hundreds of ethnicities. Each lives in some kind of clustering forming their own separate and distinct communities from others. So we have Little Guyana or Little Indo-Caribbean in Queens. But that does not prevent cross cultural mingling and co-existence. Each takes pride in their cultural and ethnic heritage and each has some kind of heritage day or week or month long celebrations.
Ifill is an Afro-centrist and her political view and position is exclusively shaped by it. Shah is an Indo-centrist who respects other groups. Shah consistently condemned electoral fraud. I have not seen any condemnation by Ifill of corruption during the last five years or during the Burnham era. Shah consistently frowned upon corruption going back for decades. Shah’s Indo-centricity does not define her feminism. She condemns abuse and inequality of women regardless of the perpetrator’s ethnicity or which party or race in government. Being a feminist does not prevent Shah from critiquing a government of her ethnicity. She penned many such critiques.
For Shah, wrong is wrong. She would never condone rigging because it benefits her race. And she condemns racism all around regardless of ethnicity of those who practice it. There are so many other differences between the two that it would be inappropriate for critics to somehow describe both as similar or belonging in the same league on ethnic issues.